All Fall Down

embassyrowby Ally Carter
First sentence: “‘When I was twelve I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,’ I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.”
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Content: There’s some intense situations, but no swearing and  no sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Grace saw her mother murdered three years ago. She is 100% sure of this fact. She knows it was a man with a scar on his face, that her mother was shot, not burned in an accidental fire. The problem? No. One. Believes. Her.

She’s spent the past three years in and out of therapy and in and out of drugs, and now has come to Embassy Row in Adria to live with her grandfather and forget what happened. The problem? Grace can’t let it go.

And it doesn’t help that Grace is positive that she’s seen the man who murdered her father. So, she ropes her new friends Noah and Megan (and her German neighbor, Rosie) into spying on the man. The further she goes, however, the more confusing everything becomes. Grace has no idea who’s her friend and who isn’t.

This is darker than Carter’s usual fare, and without the swoon factor (ahhh HALE). But what it lacks in fluff and swoon it more than makes up for with a completely unreliable narrator, several twists and turns, and a pretty amazing ending. Grace is a fascinating character, angsty (well, I prefer to think of it more as PTSD-y), smart, and completely wrong about so much. It makes for a trippy ride, one where I had no idea what was going to happen next. I loved that about this book. And I’m completely in the dark as to where the next book is going.

Of course I’m going to have to read it.

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Persephone stood on the bare mountaintop, her ruffled ivory dress whipping around her legs, her masses of white-blond curls streaming behind her.”
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Release date: October 21, 2014
Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves
Content: There’s swearing, lots of it, including f-bombs, but nothing felt gratuitous. There’s also violence and some adult drinking. Plus, it’s a complicated story arc that may prove confusing for younger readers. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’m always at a bit of a loss when dealing with this series. I just want to throw it at everyone (especially people who come in the store. WHY WON’T THEY BUY THIS BOOK?) and say “READ THIS! THIS IS WHAT STORYTELLING AND WRITING IS.” It really doesn’t matter that I love the characters (“What [Orla] didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another.” Count me in on that.), and I am intrigued and fascinated by the people they meet. In this book, most especially, it was Jesse Dittley, the man who took care of the cave in the hills, who talked in ALL CAPS and called Blue an ANT. He was wonderful.

The basic plot that Stiefvater weaves is that Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are getting closer to waking their unknown king, Glendower. Blue’s mom, Maura is missing, gone off on a quest of her own. And Mr. Gray’s employer, Greenmantle (“Greenmantle had always liked the idea of being a mysterious hit man, but that career goal invariably paled in comparison with his enjoyment of going out in the town and having people admire his reputation and driving his Audi with its custom plate (GRNMNTL) and going on cheese holidays in countries that put little hats over their vowels like so: ê.”), has shown up in town, furious at Mr. Gray for defying him, determined to make him pay.

But, things don’t necessarily go right. (There is one more book, after all.) And Blue and the boys are possibly in deeper than they can handle.

What I love most (as evidenced by the frequency of quotes already), however, is the writing. It’s so drop-dead gorgeous. Stiefvater is a poet here, capturing so much — mood, character, events — with so little (even her use of swearing has Meaning.), it’s breathtaking.

If you haven’t picked these up yet, the series is almost done. Now is a good time to start. You won’t regret it.

Afterworlds

by Scott Westerfeld
First sentence: “The most important email that Darcy Patel ever wrote was three paragraphs long.”
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Release date: September 23, 2014
Content: There’s some grizzly murders, terrorists, and a lot of swearing. Plus the huge length and the amount of patience it’s going to take to get through this one, and I’m not sure it’s for the faint of heart. It’s in the teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because it’s the New Scott Westerfeld. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I have loved (more or less) everything I read by him. (Also: I’ve met him, at KidlitCon in Seattle. He was pretty chill.) Even so, I didn’t know what to expect. And this was nothing like I’ve ever read before.

It’s really two books in one. Half of it is a ghost/terrorist/murder story. Lizzie, a high school senior, is traveling back to California after visiting her father, and some terrorists attack her airplane. She survives by playing dead, and soon discovers that she can see ghosts. But it’s more than that: she is a psychopomp, a valkyrie, a person who helps the dead find peace. And she’s in love with the underworld’s lord, Yamaraj.

The second half of the story is about Darcy, a recently graduated girl, who “wrote” the Lizzie half of the book during NANOWRIMO her senior year, and got it snapped up by a major publisher for 6 figures. Suddenly, her life is turned upside down, and she decides that college is not an option. Instead, she moves to New York and is thrust head first into the world of YA publishing. It’s a fictional account because Darcy is a fictional person, but very it much felt like an inside peek into the life of a writer.

I liked each of the stories individually; Westerfeld knows how to plot, and how to hold a reader’s interest. The Lizzie story was sufficiently chilling (while also being a bit swoony) and had some clever and interesting takes on the afterworld. And the Darcy story was well-done as well; Westerfeld caught the uncertainty of a first-time published author as well as the excitement and naivete of someone just out of high school facing the Big Wide World.

But, what I enjoyed most, and what kept me reading, was the connection between the two parts. I loved seeing Darcy angst over her book, and how different parts of her life fit into the book. I loved reading about how parts of the story were changed and adapted. And I loved all the different teasers about the end, and how it could have been different. I’m not a writer but I loved seeing how the author and the story are tied up together and the effort it takes to write a story.

I don’t know how well this is going to go over with non-Westerfeld fans; I do hope it goes over well. There’s a couple of good stories here. And I’d be more than happy to read more of Darcy and Lizzie’s story.

The Summer Prince

by Alaya Dawn Johnson
First sentence: “When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.”
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Content: I was initially thinking that this would be good for those who like Uglies; there’s about the same amount of swearing. But the reason it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) is because there’s a lot of allusions to sex, including a couple (tasteful) sex scenes.

June Costa is the best artist in Palmeres Três. Or so she thinks; she just hasn’t had a chance to prove it yet. And in this, a moon year in which her futuristic, matriarchal society chooses a one-year Summer King to “rule”, she will have that chance. It starts innocently: her best friend, Gil, falls in love with the summer king, Enki. And she does, too, though she tells herself that it’s mostly about the art. And what art June and Enki create. Ever more elaborate, they end up sparking a revolution of sorts between the technophiles and the isolationists; the government, made up of women they call “Aunties”, has placed strict regulations on what kind of tech can be in the city.

It was this tech element that reminded me so much of Uglies. But, I think Johnson was pointing out the value of art and the power of love, even in a futuristic (and while not dystopian, certainly not perfect) society. It’s a very thought-provoking novel, one that winds and unfurls instead of proceeding in a linear fashion. And it was this winding that kept me most interested. Johnson chose to build her futuristic Brazilian society in bits and chunks throughout the entire book, dropping hints and clues about what happened to get the world to this point along the way. And the society she built was equally as fascinating, with all its machinations and political scheming.

But, ultimately, it was June and Enki and Gil (and June’s competition/friend, Bebel) that kept me reading in the end. I cared about what happened to them, how this year played out for the summer king and his newfound friends. I found myself moved by the ending, and thinking about the book long after I turned the last page.

Audiobook: The Cuckoo’s Calling

by Robert Galbraith
read by Robert Glenister
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Content: None of the murders are grisly — they’re all alluded to — and there’s some talk of sex, but none actual on screen. However, the language is very adult (including many, many f-bombs), and for that reason, it’s in the mystery section (well, also because it’s a mystery) of the bookstore.

Cormoran Strike is hard up on his luck. Retired from the military due to an accident in which he lost part of his leg, and recently broken up with his posh, upper class girlfriend, the only thing Strike has is his private detective practice. And even that’s not doing terribly well. He can’t afford the temporary secretary that’s shown up, and he’s pretty sure he’s going to default on the loan his estranged (but famous) father gave him.

Things are looking pretty down when John Bristow, adopted brother of supermodel Lula Landry walks in Strike’s office with an incredible story. Bristow claims that the police have it wrong: that Landry’s death was not a suicide as originally thought, but rather murder. Someone pushed her off her third floor balcony to her death. The question is: who?

I really didn’t have expectations going into this one. I knew it was J. K. Rowling but I don’t really read many mysteries, so I wasn’t dying to get to this one. But, when I saw the audio book, I figured it was worth a try. I didn’t love it, but I was intrigued by it.

Perhaps it was because I knew it was Rowling before I went in, but I could tell that it was Rowling’s work. The way she described things (and because it’s audio, I don’t have a handy example) felt similar to the Harry Potter books. That, and she really does have a gift for names. The plotting was good as well; she kept up a good pace, and even though there were some bits that weren’t vitally necessary, it wasn’t under-edited. And the twist at the end didn’t come out of nowhere; something which was incredibly important to me.

I did feel like she under-utilized the administrative assistant, Robin. She gave us background on her, and made her a sympathetic character, but really didn’t have her do much of anything. I kept waiting for a grand Robin Moment that never quite came. The narration was excellent; I was impressed with the range of accents and voices that Glenister could do; perhaps one of the reasons I stayed interested in the book was because his narration was so compelling.

That said, it was a good, solid mystery. Nothing too spectacular, but nothing mundane or pedantic. Which means it’s just about right.

Audiobook: The Killer’s Cousin

by Nancy Werlin
Read by: Nick Podehl
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Content: There’s talk about a murder and a suicide, a lot of mild language, and one f-bomb. Plus a lot of intense situations. It’s in the teen section, (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to an 8th grader if they showed interest.

David Yaffe is a killer. Sure, he was acquitted at trial for murdering his girlfriend, but he knows in his heart that he. is. a. killer. So, even though he’s off to Boston to live with his Uncle Vic and Aunt Julia (and their daughter, Lily) and to start over at a new school, he knows — knows — that things will never, ever be the same again.

It doesn’t help that Vic and Julia have waged a cold war with David’s parents for years, and that Julia (at least) is not happy to have David there. It also doesn’t help that their daughter, Kathy, committed suicide in the attic apartment where David’s currently living. And it really doesn’t help that Lily resents David’s presence. Not because he’s a killer — which is the reason most people can’t be around David — but because he’s an intrusion in her perfect little (albeit warped) world.

I don’t know how this is in print form, but listening to Podehl narrate the book, I was completely creeped out. Especially by Lily. It was one of those books where I was yelling at the CD in the car “NO. SHE NEEDS HELP!!” pages (discs) before the characters realized it. And Vic and Julia? I don’t care if it was the mid-1990s (I realized, at one point, that Kathy was my age, which means Vic and Julia were my parents age), they were horrible, horrible, horrible parents. (So were David’s, for that matter.) The epitome of controlling and judgmental. And there was very little growth arc, for them, at least. (Though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the point of the book.) However, David and Lily, were fascinating characters, and the book is more about their relationship than anything else.

And that had me compelled — even if I thought Podehl’s voice for Lily was a bit on the whiny side — from the first disc to the last.